Friday, December 29, 2006

The Other Essay

I am not currently engaged in any large research projects. Next semester I am enrolled in classes which will require a great deal of research. Perhaps the most challenging project I completed recently was a paper on the Putney debates among the Levellers during the English Civil War.
I enrolled in British History to 1688 my first semester back in school because I wanted to learn more about the development of the common law and the institutions which came to support classical liberalism. I was satisfied with the course, and intrigued by the story of the Levellers. I sought out more of their story.
What I discovered piqued my interest even more. History, as we are told now in the 21st century, is written by the winners. Different periods of history are revisited and reanalyzed frequently, depending upon who is winning in academia at the time. Both libertarians and Marxists had revisited the Putney debates in their time, yet in their zeal to promulgate a teleological narrative consistent with their respective philosophies the eventual victors each made the mistake of letting earlier historians do their investigation for them. Thus the debate among historians centered on a single document, Agreement of the People, which was important for being among the first attempts at a written, unalterable constitution.
What these narratives neglected was the other central document concerning the Putney debates, Case of the Army Truly Stated. In three of my six sources the Case of the Army Truly Stated was not even cited, while the Agreement of the People was cited every time. The Agreement is available through several internet sources, such as: http://www.strecorsoc.org/docs/agreement.html. The Case is not available online and the only copy I was able to procure was hidden in an unlit isle on a shelf in the basement of Duke University’s Perkins Library on microfilm.
My curiosity drove me to this document. What was it? Why was it difficult to find? The transcripts of the Putney debates made reference to this document, so why did the historians ignore it? I felt like I had discovered a lost piece of evidence, deliberately buried, because it did not fit with popular theories. It complicated those zealous teleological attempts at proselization.
This also complicated my research, because I had no precedent to follow, or to disagree with, concerning this document. My explication would be new, fresh, and juvenile. I am not a trained historian, and such an important work required time resources I did not have available. My work would prove incomplete, confusing, and somewhat uninformed.
The bulk of the paper which I presented was my interpretation of the Case of the Army Truly Stated and a contrast / comparison to Agreement of the People. This work was largely original, though I gave credit to Richard Maybury, author of The Uncle Eric Series, a set of books that teach classical liberalism to young adults, for the models I employed in making my argument.
I thoroughly enjoyed interacting with these original sources. Today’s university experience is fraught with musty texts which teach down to under qualified or lazy students satisfied to swallow and regurgitate what is given to them. I was appalled to discover that I might never read Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations even as an Economics graduate student. Shall we merely take what is given to us without question? How are we to arouse the creative, curious, and productive spirit within students to inspire the creation of new wealth of knowledge?
I spent a great amount of time with my instructor, Professor Chad Ludington, discussing my paper, both before and after its presentation. I felt, and he agreed, that within it there lay the potential for a paper worthy of scholarly publication. I have a new section in my library dedicated to materials which may be useful in completing this work someday, while I am most concentrated on developing proficiency in using economic models for the time being.
It is an important work for the resurgence of classical liberalism. The Levellers’ story arises in Murray Rothbard’s For a New Liberty, and Dr. Anna Ebeling’s lectures at the Foundation for Economic Education. I hope that someday I can revisit this story and complete my work on it, or at least hand it off to someone who can truly do it justice.

No comments: